Brian Armsey’s blog

January 27, 2009

Twitter to hit the big time with explosion in microblogging

Filed under: Uncategorized — brianarmsey @ 9:42 pm
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Twitter, the fast-growing microblogging and social media site, is about to change gears.

 The service where users post short updates about what they are doing has received an explosion in visitors, both in the UK and the US. Twitter has become the communication tool of choice among early adopters and the tech community, a worldwide first alert news medium and a nascent marketing and customer services tool as it has thrust itself into the mainstream.

 Twitter is just about to make the biggest shift in its short history by integrating its search functions into the home pages of users.

 Until now if users wanted to search the outpouring of updates or “tweets”, say for updates about a stock price or football team or a hotel, they had to go to a separate website – search.twitter.com – or use one of the many independent search applications that have sprung up on the web.
 That hurdle is thought to have blocked many of the general public from understanding how to get beyond the criticism of Twitter as a platform for narcissists and to take advantage of Twitter’s growing scale.

 Biz Stone, one of Twitter’s co-founders, told The Times: “Search integration is a way of introducing relevancy to people. This is not just about ‘What are you doing?’ but about what everyone else is doing. Twitter is about finding out what is going on out there right now in real time. This is a powerful new way of repositioning the product.”

 Within the next 10 days, Twitter will start putting search into the Twitter home pages of about 1 per cent of users, to test the waters and ask for feedback, before rolling it out across the network, Mr Stone said.

 In Twitter users answer the question “What are you doing?” in 140 characters or less and post their updates into a personal stream.

 Other users can choose to receive or “follow” those updates, or send messages directly at other users, creating networks of twitterers.

 Twitter has become an essential way for millions of people to share their experiences during global events such as the election of President Obama or the plane crash in the Hudson River.

 According to various analyses – Twitter does not provide official figures – more than 2.25 million tweets are posted every day, adding to a total of more than 1.1 billion tweets since the service was launched early in 2007. The site is thought to have more than 1.2 million active users and the rate of growth is accelerating. Twitter says that its active user base – several million more have Twitter accounts – increased six-fold in the last 10 months. Mr Stone told The Times that he expected the growth rate to be 10x over the next year, thanks in part to the integration of search.

 Search is also likely to be central to finding a way to make money for the site. Until now the service – with no business model – has been propped up by $22 million (£16 million) of venture capital. The founders have promised to introduce a revenue stream in the next couple of months and Mr Stone said that search – finding relevant, useful information for companies – would be key.

 Some big companies are already actively monitoring Twitter to help them understand their customers. Dell, Comcast and Jet Blue are among those who seek out references to themselves and their products as useful feedback. Mr Stone said that tracking keywords for companies, giving companies an official presence on the site and helping them to introduce themselves to customers were all possible revenue generators. Mr Stone said that Twitter was big enough now to move away from its roots as simply a communication tool between people. “Trends would indicate there is going to be a lot more consumption than creation.”

 While sceptics will prefer to see the detail of Twitter’s business plans, venture capitalists are already betting on Twitter’s growth to provide solid returns in the eco-system of web applications surrounding the service.

 Stocktwits, a stock tracking application, recently garnered $800,000 in funding and this month TweetDeck, a Twitter application created by British programmer Iain Dodsworth, raised $500,000 in angel investment. Tweetdeck is a free software download that organises a user’s Twitter stream into more manageable and useful feeds. It is aimed more at “power users” – those who follow dozens or even hundreds of other twitterers. TweetDeck has been downloaded 250,000 times since its launch only last summer. Twitterers are sending out 120,000 messages a day using the software.

 Mr Dodsworth, 34, an IT contractor who wrote the application in between contracts in the City of London, now works full time on TweetDeck and has been approached by UPS and the Hyatt hotel chain to produce better ways of monitoring Twitter.

 He said: “They are telling me about the sorts of services they would pay for. Twitter is like an online version of texting but it’s open for everyone to see. If you are a self-promoter, whether it’s business or personal, you can build an audience very quickly. That’s why it is so interesting.”

 London is leading the charge for Twitter. According to Twitter’s own analysis of web visitors, London provides more visitors (2 per cent) to Twitter.com than any other in the world, including Twitter’s home city of San Francisco. This analysis does not include those using Twitter via applications such as Tweetdeck or from mobile phones, so it may not tell the whole story, but it indicates how the service has been embraced in Britain.

 In the UK twitter traffic has increased by 974 per cent in the past year, according to the latest figures from Hitwise, a web research company. From nowhere, Twitter is now the 291st most-visited site in the UK.

  Robin Goad, director of UK research for Hitwise, said: “Twitter was one of the fastest-growing websites in the UK last year, and it shows no signs of slowing down. If anything, the service is even more popular than our numbers imply, as we are only measuring traffic to the main Twitter website. Many people seem to find Twitter addictive: the average amount of time that people spend on Twitter.com a day has more than trebled from less than 10 minutes a year ago to half an hour now.”

 Jonathan Ross is one of a number of celebrities who have raised the service’s profile in recent weeks. He has been using Twitter to chat with fans during his enforced absence from the BBC and will Twitter live with Stephen Fry, another famous twitterer, on his BBC television programme on Friday night.

 The fastest-growing age group of users is 35 to 44-year-olds, who account for 17.3 per cent of UK visitors to www.twitter.com, according to Hitwise. Twitter is also becoming an important source of traffic for many sites, and the amount of traffic it sends to other websites has increased 30-fold over the last 12 months. Almost 10 per cent of Twitter’s downstream traffic goes to news and media websites, Hitwise said.

 Growth in the UK may be further accelerated after Twitter reintroduces free two-way text messaging of tweets to countries outside the US. In August last year Twitter withdrew its free SMS service to the UK and Europe because it was costing the company too much money. Mr Stone told The Times that this service was going to be restored soon and negotiations were under way for better deals with telecoms operators in individual countries, after the hiring of a director of mobile business development last week. “We are close with Canada and the UK is on our list as the first place to go next. We know that it will be well received there.”

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1 Comment »

  1. You can see a mockup of what Twitter advertising might look like here. I make this advertising mockup a few weeks back.

    http://www.twitterbusinessbook.com/2009/01/twitter-advertising-invasion-has-begun

    Cheers!

    Comment by Rodney Rumford — January 29, 2009 @ 1:58 am


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